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American Ballets
George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
Capital of the World
(abridged version) (1953) [25:58]
William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)
(1945) [24:40]
Morton GOULD (1913-1996)
Fall River Legend
(complete ballet) (1953) [24:13]
Ballet Theatre Orchestra/Joseph Levine
rec. 8-9 June 1954, 20-21 April 1953, 25 April 1955, Riverside Plaza Hotel, New York City. ADD
Experience Classicsonline

None of these works is completely unknown. What is unusual is to have three such contrasting piece in harness. The recordings are about 55 years old so this is a bit of an exception to the general EMI American Classics approach. The sound does nothing to defy expectations. It's a bit raw but undeniably vivid.

There are modern recordings of all three ballets but none quite catches the virile charge imparted here. The stage sense is palpable. That is no surprise as these pieces were written and played by this director and this orchestra as staged and danced ballets. The Capital of the World based on a Hemingway short story premiered on US television in 1953. You can tell from the neon glare, fiesta romps redolent of Auric and Milhaud and the generality of Iberian mannerisms that this is both a tragedy and a technicolor spectacular. The California glare of this music is accounted for by Antheil's busy engagement with Hollywood even if he never had a big score success unlike his West Coast based contemporaries, Korngold, Waxman and Rózsa. Schuman is more of an original, more subtle. He worked on The Undertow with Anthony Tudor but was never told the plot. He wrote to Tudor's commission to write music for a particular atmosphere which Tudor fed to him in a series of mini-commissions. The story of a sex murderer, drunks, prostitutes, remorse and desolation may recall Bliss's Miracle in the Gorbals and Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin at least in relation to the plot. Each of the episodes is separately tracked in twelve segments. This is comparatively early Schuman though in time not that far distant from iconic scores such as the Violin Concerto and the Third Symphony. Schuman allows himself a few Coplandisms along the way and in Entrance of Ate there is a touch of Piston's Incredible Flutist and in Drunken women of Ives’ revivalist band music. It's a predominantly dark score as we have come to expect from Schuman - one of the strongest of the twentieth century’s American voices.

Gould's Fall River Legend dates from 1948 and was written for Agnes de Mille. Like the other two ballets here it has death as a dramatic component: this time the murder of her father and stepmother by Lizzie Borden and her own fate at the gallows. Gould like Virgil Thomson and Ives makes use of revivalist material and sentimental songs. In Church Social we hear elements of Stravinsky and Copland. There's something of a hoedown in the plunging Cotillion. The feral romping wildness of Murder recalls some of the demented street-scenes of Sondheim and Gemigniani's orchestral writing for Sweeney Todd. The Epilogue and the violent Prologue carry the cargo of violence and this is especially true of the Prologue.

The Gould and Antheil were recorded within two years of their theatre premieres.

Not one of the strongest presences in the American Classics marque but undeniably fascinating. More of a curiosity than a clamant purchase.

Rob Barnett



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